By Laura Killingbeck
Every Fall the juniper trees at Round the Bend Farm call my attention with new fruit. The berries are bright blue, fragrant, and form vivid clusters at the end of each branch. It’s difficult to walk past without pausing to pop one in my mouth.
There are many varieties of juniper, but the most common type in Massachusetts is actually very special. It is Juniperus virginina, also referred to as Eastern Red Cedar. The berries are edible and have a unique sweetness to them which is different from other varieties of edible junipers.
Gin is any distilled alcohol that has been flavored with juniper. It was originally crafted as a medicine and sold in pharmacies. However, this medicine was so delicious that people started drinking it just for fun! Juniper acts as a diuretic and is used to treat gastrointestinal issues and urinary tract infections, but its also tasty as a gin and tonic.
You can make your own gin by infusing juniper and other spices into vodka. There are really endless combinations of herbs and spices that you can use to make a delicious (and medicinal) gin, but the essential ingredient is the juniper. The following recipe is one that I particularly enjoy.
A few things to remember if you are making your botanical gin at home:
1. Only harvest juniper berries from edible varieties of juniper. In Massachusetts this is predominantly Juniperus virginiana (Eastern Red Cedar).
2. Like many spices, juniper is edible and medicinal in small quantities but toxic in large quantities. Consume in moderation.
3. Most gin recipes you find online assume that you will use berries from a different variety of juniper called Common Juniper or Juniperus communis. These berries have a stronger, more bitter flavor. If you are using Common Juniper, you should reduce the quantity of the juniper in the recipe below to 1-2 tablespoons.
Botanical Gin Recipe
Makes one bottle (750 ml) gin.
Ingredients: 8 tbs juniper berries (Juniperus virginiana)
3⁄4 tsp coriander, whole
1⁄4 tsp ground allspice
1⁄4 tsp fennel seed
3 green cardamon pods
3 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 sprig rosemary or 1 tsp dried rosemary
1⁄4 tsp citrus zest or 1 citrus slice
1⁄4 tsp lavender750 ml vodka
Put the herbs in a glass jar. Add vodka, cap tightly, and let sit one month or more in a cool, dark place. Then strain the liquid into a glass bottle and enjoy!
1. A handful of freshly picked juniper berries.
2. A variety of infused vodkas: Apple Juniper, Classic Gin, and Blackberry Autumn Olive.
3. A jar of botanical gin in the process of infusing.